It’s been a long journey, but I finally arrived at the destination: as of August 2016, I became my own boss. It had been the goal since the very beginning, but it always seemed more like a dream. I spent years watching friends and colleagues in the creative industry break out on their own and seemingly flourish (thanks to the “magic” of social media); I knew I could do it too, but I always told myself that it wasn’t the right time. I had (and still have) a myriad of excuses as to why it isn’t, but over the summer I experienced a personal breaking point and I made the leap.
. . . fast forward to November; I’m still here with many of the same stresses (drowning in student loan debt, wanting to lose weight, etc), but happier than I’ve been in a long time. It’s a total cliché, but we only get this one life, so you should have a say in how you live it! However, I would be remiss if I said that I reached this point all by myself. If you’re thinking about taking the self-employment plunge, here are some things to consider- courtesy of someone who is living the awkward, teenage stages right now:
1. ESTABLISH A SUPPORT SYSTEM
Yes, saving up money is important- however, in this case, I mean an emotional one. I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to quit my day job- I’ve been running some iteration of exit343design since 2007, so you might say it’s been a long time coming. The decision didn’t come easy (see first paragraph) but I knew I’d be okay after some frank discussions about my new life and new income with my now fiancée, friends, and family members. Being an entrepreneur is taxing in many ways and knowing that there are people out there who have your back means the world.
2. BE PREPARED TO WEAR A LOT OF HATS
I recently read a blog post from Amy Tripple; it’s actually unrelated to this post, but it mentions all the things that go into pricing for photography services (see #3 in the post). It’s totally true- as of right now, I’m acting as my own designer, creative director, assistant, printer, secretary, accountant, marketing manager, customer service manager, photographer, web designer . . .
3. THAT SAID, DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR OR INVEST IN HELP
. . . so yeah, the amount of tasks to complete often feels insurmountable and that’s another place where your support system comes in handy. Numbers are not my strong suit, but my fiancée is an Excel whiz. I realized I need some coaching in the legal department, so I’m taking advantage of some free counseling services through Philadelphia’s Corzo Center for creative entrepreneurs. Pennsylvania also offers small business counseling in any industry through Small Business Development Centers across the state. I figured out some repetitive tasks in the studio were eating in to production times, so I farmed them out to friends with free time. I’m also part of a stationery-centric professional group that has been a terrific resource for this transition. Recognizing problem areas early will only help your business in the long run!
4. TUNE UP YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH
This was a big one that I didn’t even realize was a problem until August. For years, if someone asked about my occupation, I always said “oh, I work at _____ and I’m an artist/photographer in my free time.” If they asked for elaboration, I told the person that I sell at craft fairs and that I photograph weddings, because those are concepts that people of any age and background could understand.
Then I quit my traditional day job. That is already a hard enough pill for some folks to swallow. And people who had heard those explanations from me couldn’t understand why I would leave a stable job to simply vend at craft shows full time. Yikes!
Learn from this mistake, craft an elevator pitch, and practice it! Word of mouth is still so important and you want to accurately convey your business idea to the world. My modified one is still a work in progress, but it goes something like this:
“I’m a screen-printer who designs stationery and gift items. I sell at shows and to stores around the country. I also do freelance photography.”
5. USE YOUR TIME WISELY, BUT BE SURE TO GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
The gift of time is a fickle thing- it’s easy to get caught up in household tasks or fall down the Facebook rabbit hole, but it’s also just as easy to work all day for 14 hours straight. For me, I have what feels like a million to-do lists running at any given time. When I worked full time for someone else, I was so used to doing that job, then coming home and running my own business until exhaustion.
Getting burnt out sucks, and it’s so easy to do as an entrepreneur. Find a balance and don’t feel bad if you give yourself some time (maybe just two hours or maybe it’s a whole day!) off. Schedule it and enjoy it- flexibility is one of the best perks of self-employment! Think of it as a mental reset button.
One other thing that doesn't really fit the theme of this list, but is something I'm glad someone told me before I made the leap: healthcare is stupid expensive when you pay out of pocket. Don't say you weren't warned!
Anyhow, I hope this list proves to be helpful to someone out there. It took me reading many issues of INC Magazine, talking with other makers, and years of contemplation to realize it. If you have anything useful to add, feel free in the comments below!